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Roman Catholics Largely on Sidelines of Buffalo Abortion Protests With AM-Abortion Protests

April 28, 1992

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Though their church condemns abortion, Buffalo’s Roman Catholic clergymen and lay people have largely stayed on the sidelines while Operation Rescue members pray, chant and get arrested outside clinics.

″The bishop is a very powerful man and I don’t know why he’s hesitant to use his powers,″ Guy Savio, a 76-year-old Catholic from Buffalo, said while participating at an anti-abortion protest this week outside a Buffalo clinic. ″At least the bishop should show up. Why doesn’t he? That’s a good question. ... The bishop has been silent.″

Operation Rescue leaders said they considered this city an attractive site for clinic sieges in part because the Buffalo Roman Catholic diocese is one of the largest in the country with 766,000 members.

But unlike in Wichita, Kan., last summer, where local Bishop Eugene Gerber attended some protests and many Catholic priests were arrested, the Buffalo diocese has been all but silent on the demonstrations.

As the protests continued a ninth day Tuesday, federal marshals were ordered to arrest five anti-abortion leaders who allegedly violated a judge’s injunction prohibiting them from blockading abortion clinics. Meanwhile, about 150 demonstrators on each side of the abortion issue clashed outside a clinic, resulting in 78 arrests.

Bishop Edward D. Head of the Buffalo Diocese told Catholics before the start of local Operation Rescue demonstrations that while the church abhors abortions, ″I will not personally participate in civil disobedience.″

″I believe the Spirit is calling all of us to pray for an end to the terrible violence of abortion,″ he said.

He said the diocese would continue to provide spiritual comfort and education in an effort to deter abortions from being performed, or needed.

Monsignor David Lee, a diocesan spokesman, said Head’s comments were designed to make Catholics examine their own consciences and act accordingly.

″The diocese has left the decision up to each individual as to whether the person wishes to take part in Operation Rescue,″ he said Tuesday.

But James Likoudis of Williamsville, who heads the conservative group Catholics United for the Faith, countered that engaging in educational activities is not enough.

″That doesn’t stop a single child in the womb from being torn apart, or suctioned off or being burned alive,″ he said. ″There is a great deal of sympathy to the protests among Catholics, but Catholics have not turned out in the numbers that have been expected. This is because of the shameful lack of support given by diocesan officials. It is a disgrace to Catholics throughout the diocese.″

An exception is Monsignor Joseph Joseph of St. John Maron Church, a suburban Williamsville Eastern Rite Catholic church that’s not under the supervision of the diocesan bishop. Joseph has allowed his church to be used as a meeting place for Operation Rescue demonstrators in the morning, and for some of the group’s rallies at night.

″Some did not like it,″ Joseph said. ″The vast majority tell me ’Congratulations.‴

When about 350 people at a rally Sunday night at the Evangel Assembly of God in Amherst were asked to identify their religious affiliation, more than half indicated they were members of the Assembly of God and charismatics.

About three dozen identified themselves as Catholics.

But no one raised a hand after Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry turned to the two dozen or so clergy members and protest leaders gathered behind on the stage and asked, ″Where are the Catholic priests?″

Officially, Operation Rescue leaders insisted they aren’t disappointed with the response from Catholics. But occasionally frustration has spilled over.

During Saturday’s demonstration, with his forces outnumbered 3-to-1 by abortion-rights protesters, Operation Rescue leader Bob Jewitt conceded that more Catholics should be out supporting the anti-abortion cause.

″Where are the Catholics? Where are the Christians?″ he asked. ″Every Christian in this town should be out here.″

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